'yet another order / of the closeness we had found'

Kenneth Irby, January 1985 (photo by David Levi Strauss).

lobe of opalescent glass (417)

may be

a rapid shadow from a slope of grass[1]

- for

<<Absents within the Line Conspire, and Sense
                                       Things Distant doth unite>>

- not least of all in title, The Intent On.[2]

     It’s on.
     Herein an inner traffic, the seepages of worlds (547),



 as the hyacinth smell

and the peeling


of the first air (560)


find setting. This is a work manifestly given over to the magics, the wildness of transmission: unreal, to have it so handy, to have such time immediate. Lines touch

and touch with touch the are they are (632),[3]

true in their quiver:

Plotinus wrote: <<Often I reawaken from my body to myself: I come to be outside other things,
               and inside myself.>>

 which when I first read it I thought said: <<I come from being outside other things to being
                inside myself.>>

which is the existence that is a call

there is a conviction that if you jump up and down off and on the curb long enough with your feet
                held tightly together

you’ll fly

others have been convinced that perfect immobility for the exact number of days or months - and
                the number varies -

will turn your eyelids to emerald

and with emerald the immobility will be limitless vibration everywhere (576)


Which (i.e., fixity turned on its head) may figure the work, so resoundingly is Ken’s a time art, so orthogonal (as in that focal term continent (219, 551)) is the play, the mo(ve)ment, to bounds, to bindings. Emerald may be of the [Emerald] City (146, 159, 88, 307),[4] our estuary (550), the magic lands stretching all the way to Here. How that here at once is and is not of my self is a particular notice of the work; & so I write to tell of my share in Ken’s place, his time, and present - or more precisely, of his in mine.


how far a country is college, how far a continent and many countries (551)

I was chickenshit, freshman, with formal value DICHTEN=CONDENSARE (cf. Pound’s ABCs of Reading) - what I know now, as against Irby’s range, for Inhibition.[5] Counterpose more broadly the idiocy of […] composure (38) to the unintended, primordial, ever-recurring presence of Disturbance (295):[6] it is a (Duncan-ian) binary I was only through Ken to perceive. The challenge of Ken’s work and personality - especially to one young, and laboring at disavowals - is how much comes in: the gauche, the ghosts, the rage of faults;[7] a fluent switching from hightoned to home(l)y (and back again (549)) is signature:

we hear those steps’ color, carry those plastic buckets full of laundry, fresh

 to be stored in the curves of driving, fast, the night returns, the honey braked

[…] that vast RV of waking to find out (524)



the big big cars, in among the stars

where you see bonechina butterflies in and out among the golden balls (445)


How (such is his accuracy, his reach) he befriends high school, ardent, awkward, prime -

all the high school years again, unslept, reviewing the annual faces over and over

              till they run green in the movies after the eyes are closed

          and still as distant as they were in person (417)


Here is an imagination not at variance with, but of the world. Diversity, he seems to argue: that the diversity is pure.[8]

It may follow: A true account of the actual is the rarest poetry (H.D. Thoreau, cited at 95). But this consonance I seek between actuality and the poem is not easy (Robert Duncan, cited at 565), is demanding. The scales of relation Duncan undertook are in large measure, though differently, Irby’s own; to work that way is to bear, crucially, an element - and sometime severities - of discord. For there are holes.[9]

It is very often the implied merit of a lyric poet to have sustained the myth of unitary being. Ken’s avowed affinity for the pastoral reflects perhaps an alternative strategy: not to disown that whole, but to pose or think it, more paradoxically, in terms of place. Holes we may know as the ache or indirection of the actual; holes even are how it closes round us, are its springs. And yet the fact, in all this sublimity of nothing, of distance; place a rapture, a hom(ecom)ing, of distances; distance ever in the work a relic, a production, of love (412, 452–53, 461, 475).

knowing you are there beyond whatever distance
Out of the light off the woodwork I see your figure

the distance of love is one of the cracks in the year (455)

Just so is place intercalary, ecstasy of a beyond, inkling or word of

                                                                                              a new  

and other order, kids crying and hollering in the back seat,

get out to pee by the ocean, sand flats awash, a plover on -

& other order, as if it all

were all a new and never come to

meeting of each other, finding ourselves

suddenly among such people

we could love, could face

all shit and waste against us

and survive

into yet another order

of the closeness we had found (125)


- a layering of other and together we hear again in a longing so immense / it shot the wholly sensual through / with holes of an altogether other light (239), holes out of which place looms, Atlantean, (American,) an allure, a staging of saving prospects. Place is the place of wholes we know in the delights of longing come home, in an unscrolling of new and other order[s] (of […] closeness), where to write or be here at all (164) is to touch off orders further. And to go on.

To be very clear: the inclusiveness, the search and breadth, of Ken’s lines is a value, but one never strained or naïve, and amounts as well to never dismissing the difficulties. For a long time I was unable to understand difficulties (holes) as ever other than political. Ken’s resources - a profound care for and insight into people[10] and scene(s) - were plain; but it was less clear to me just how they serve. My notion of the difficulties has deepened over time, exactly along with my feeling and respect for the fullness (the place) of Ken’s response.[11]

The better to place, articulate, and frame that response, I want to look a little into two kinds of holes, holes of which any contemporary art would be a reckoning. Both haunt, i.e., trouble and impel, Ken’s work:

1. (The state of) violence, misuse (134), all shit and waste against us (125), the corruption of the earth (94).

2. As ever, with evil - or earth - the question of reality.[12]


There is war; and there is not fought a war we are not lost in (119). Ken began alarmed:

so I was a “communist” and hated my nation
and came to poetry as a loss of childishness I thought
(277, Notes II)

(vs. Rome? Rime.) The reference is to the beginning of the Korean War. He would have been 13.

               virginity! aware virginity! aware and hip and aching
bent listening, the shuffle footed, the shuffle bifurcated

war I knew came home along the corridors of high school

landscape I would have to take
to ever come home

all was at war, but I was not a warrior (277)

- lines exceptional, out of step, in a number of ways:

(1) The wholes of The Intent On (whether Heraclitean – “War is the father of all and king of all…” (Kirk 245) - or otherwise) are apprehended as a rule by an expansive movement from here (on) out, not from out, in. The all […] at war, above, is different.

(2) Relatedly, gestures of repudiation or exception are rare, and the suggestion of a reality or whole separate from Ken himself does not recur.

(3) The personification of war, likewise, is unusual. Ken’s works pursue relational energies of which emblems are very rarely instrumental,[13] energies conspicuous, often, in an activity or preponderance of prepositions.[14] The lines above, on the other hand, describe a discrete sequence of alienating recognitions and imperatives, a conflict of states.

All factor in a brittleness of tone we might term mythological, reflecting the need to secure or codify one’s calling as calling, in the face of renewing strife (Berkeley ~1970). The lines propose a life’s work - poetry, and the taking of landscape - from, as it were, the other side of a method or world that work would grow to characterize and embody.

In other words, Notes II records tensions the resolution of which is another story, one of a conversion of lived time to (authorizing) powers of space, to room and permission, both within the work and without. It’s that story the idiosyncratic landscape I would have to take anticipates, with telling verbal ambivalence: take can be active, even martially so, in “Take that hill”, or passive, in “take a punch” (or both, in “Take a number”[15]). The former seems the inflection, here; the message is reluctance to contend, in a world affording no alternative, no out. But to contend for landscape has meant always, for Ken, to be taken by it: The poetry of this mild littoral clime is marked by many turnings, distracted and multiplied attentions - but centrally, in my own case, by the conviction that the landscape demands us, and reveals us (94).

What has landscape to do with - or against - war? “The objects which exist together in the landscape exist in interrelation”[16] (Sauer 25): herein, I think, lies a main sense of Ken’s redoubt: landscape as precisely that interrelation the social order disavows.

Land is consonance.

The capacity of air, for music or for color, for light; the sky uncrowded, unclouding; the volatility of dust (there, the small stone picked up without thinking is everything, the unattended stray memories, everything, in the throw of the vision, in the catch of us in the vision (335)); the angling, the (analog) mesh (low hold against thresh (468)), of roots; the hanging quiet, the deeptime of the scene; the cool; the dogs of mileage; the seen and the unseen; leaves in the heat an ulterior black (the disk of the plains, / that fired and was the sun (81)); the hungry corners; the waiting; the little hairs on objects; the songs in things; the activity, and rest; the effected inclusion: in all of it, a kind of liminal doctrine:

what counts: any of it: anyone.

- first values attested again and again in the plains arts, whether in Dorn’s “The most important thing for me is the possibility for everyone to be able to live in the world,” (Waugh 61), or Guthrie’s “This land was made for you and me,” or Ken’s Three Geographical Variations (for Ed Dorn):

                                            what space

is open beyond is open across the whole world

Looks past whatever salvations of individuals

realizing salvation is only to pass

into the space all people live in (134)


- a vision and a measure, an honesty, we are given sometimes to know in the land. And know thereby there is a place for it.

So it is that if I have any feel for some kernel of good or shot at good in the becoming - now or at any time - of my country, I owe it largely to times walking, out, in the discovery of the land, with friends, with Ken.


In a poem framed by Sauer’s “The thing to be known is the natural landscape. It becomes known through the totality of its forms,” Dorn writes of “a life of grand design wherein all men fit” — anxious, though, that the tricks of the scene be “propaedeutic,” benign:

areal is hopefully Ariel

It is an anxiety appropriate to Dorn and Irby’s common awareness of how much displacement is the native (f)act, an awareness the study of histories both human and natural consistently impressed on both. False fronts and dislocation would be increasingly thematic for Dorn as his express subject - the west - became more and more radically indistinguishable from the effects of capital in or on it, more undead. But there are senses past even all predations of the age in which questions of land, or of good, (reckonings of terrain or of evil), culminate in the question of reality, of what is.[17] We argued place as:

(1) (fore)taste or remembrance of some sicker communion.[18]

(2) relation to otherwise, a relation troubling (hole-ing) what closures that term, “reality,” might pretend to or presume.

In each, the unsettling projections of a plenitude (pleroma, plurality) we mistrust and don’t know:

Come to renew me

 make clear my doubts

are a use of myself

open the cold house


the warmth I carry

beyond intention (268)


Thus in the confusions of the virtual is there a clearing, a freeing of inherent warmth, a disbanding or disarming of those discriminations we’d meant to see by. The sight at any moment / is as complete as the heart is (261); sight and heart - insight and reception - concur, confer in the formations of poetry, in the errancies of vision we are given to entertain:

To have a guest, and for this place, for this food and drink, and for this sharing, in
              the orchard distinguish between marble and its watering

the lordly usage, that does not question when it comes the illusion itself but
              recognizes and accepts it as illusion

for solitude and grieving are also instruments of vision, it drops its tears to take us
              on for, not for our ability

so staring into the world in the river is reflected the world

and if the King and all his retinue pass in the mirror held up in the barbershop to show

               your newcut hair, you do not need to turn around to see, until (537)


- yet let that hang; the lesson of all Ken’s writing is that the suspense is liveable, is it.[19]

Impatience, anger - at mendacity, cheats, or just karmic - may upset the work;[20]  repeatedly Ken chides himself for the discipline of care / not kept (581, 633). It is a care for what care - what cool - the land demands (123).

The pastoral […] seemed to me particularly of two concerns: a calmness, a quietude of the whole being, derived from attentions and awareness; and a feeling of great closeness with the vegetation lived among - an ecological calm - poetry that feeds us (pascere), not just that tends the sheep. (93)

Flipside, foil to that poetic object is frustration, an edginess I don’t intend (265). Which happens. See [final exam] (536) for a sweet recuperation, crud to recrudescence. Patience, he writes, Anti-wrath (275); lapses only underscore a consistency of disposition, the cumulative fact that against the prescriptive, against the hunger to be right or pre-eminent, Ken has stood for: an endurance in love.

So it is very much the person of Ken Irby we come together to celebrate: the decision to be himself. Pound detected in Bartok’s string quartets (as in his own Cantos) “the record of a struggle,” and there is something of that here. Most explicitly in the early pages, where the irresolution, even despair (63, 64, 65, 66) is sometimes searing -

flubbed in attempts, almost
no heart to go on, but
relish the earth

- Ken’s work is formed utterly and everywhere conscientious of those most exacting and uncertain questions of how to be, how to get along. The blood - the reality - in them: signalized in these poems, the accomplishment, simply, of his (or any) being.

I have denied all of these poems, in one way or another, at one time or another - and have also recognized that they are as much me, the forces through me, as any other act or notion of myself I have. The poems are survivals, then, as Walter Prescott Webb said of the Great Plains, The land itself is a survival. (93)

And that he reaches, arcs to us by light of that consubstantiality, comes on like radio out of the ’61 New Mexico night.


Dual to the range of the early work is a honed, later mood, close in focus, often long in line, intent / upon […] contours (234), surfaces, circuit:

a life into a few vegetables set in a half-shadowed deep window frame

 black dirt gloss across flame orange carrots, ivory sprouted filaments from
              upcurved fennel cardoon stalks

how long to sit there to be seen into the painting

how long the lemon cut before glazed over, and another


but in the words past the breeze through from the bedroom window up the short hall to

               the feet, and through again (523)


So begins Ridge to Ridge (2001) - attentions fit for a differential geometer,[21] to the tangent spaces,[22] to the shapely passages of time. It is in deep rapport with The Flower of Having Passed through Paradise in a Dream (1967):

We come downstairs into the currents of air and vegetation
that flow along the ground and circulate
(176) [23]

Both are taken up with smell / and turn of air / and fall of light (48), a happiness of the senses. These (both) are poetries of home, of dwelling -

resonances given off, held in the old woodwork


that endlessness of everyday

that is precisely eternity (176)


- largely untroubled with the problem of reality noted above:

   Looking quietly for the place

   to go in by


   and in the quiet, lasting miles to sea, hours

   inland over the hills to the valley


 realizing to be here is to

 have entered the whole -


 There is no illusory world, there is only the world (162)


- and recall <<To have a guest>> (above), of Ridge to Ridge: together: that there is a welcome that answers all.

I remember visiting Ken’s home for the first time, with Kyle Waugh, to view Ugetsu (VHS). I remember our early apprehension, mainly that we might bore him, something like that; there was/is a side to Ken like from another planet, fantastically impressive. In fact his home would be, very promptly, for both of us, one of the pleasantest places we knew to be, a sensational mixture of magnificent and down home, sufic-sufficient: in the is-ness of any of its space, its articles, some free reign, some infinity, something of

Let everything that happens in the world happen in this room as well (599)[24]

How vividly it might be missed; I would write from Korea:

Pangs, one day, of heady recall: the steep mixed smells of your home, tablecloth worn to creases, the salad, the drink, the dark out your balcony, time drawing sweetly by - conversating… Ken, what an angel of friendship you are and have been - how much my way takes hints and shape from you - [25]

For this was the scene, for Kyle and me both, of the absolute lesson: of open talk, of stopping awhile, of company.

I remember, from Ugetsu, the crossing of the water. I remember that night we heard Ellington, and recall in particular Ken’s statement that if he could only take one body of music to the moon, he would take Debussy’s; I was impressed by something like its pragmatism. That night there was a moon. I recall - maybe from later - in the kitchen the olive oil spigot capped with a pencil eraser, cinched with a twisty-tie (recalling Olson’s paper clips, string: […] the blessing / that difficulties are (Maximus, Song 3)). Or next to it, on the newspaper, the nub of a pencil, for the crossword, and the short plink it will make if it rolls off onto the counter. All the artifacts, all that earth. All those nights, too soon in ending.

He would walk us out to the parking lot; he always has.

The itinerary of emending the intellect, which is the journey of renouncing the inheritance of all wealth. To become a professor in your own discovery, but of something else. Not the distance covered, but the total lack of anything carried along.

and from later, and then before:

To seek from enchantment, the demands of the actual life to reverify, the release of invention.

To leave good soup at the door for a birthday, and flowers. For there can never be too much delight, or the giving of it, tacit in compassion. (659-661)


July 2012
Lawrence, Kansas



1. (frontispiece. The line is from Percy Shelley, “The Witch of Atlas”.)

2. (Book him. For conspiracy…)

3. Recalling plains / that are at sunset / all they are (85)

4. As has been said:

the Nation can only come into being

but the City we may


Between us

Here & Now, as we read

these words (160)

Touching emerald also (along with Li Shang-Yin’s “the Walls of Emerald”, source for I have fetched phoenix papers (638)) are: the green crystal craze in my veins (66) - or grass, of course, Grasslands, plains.

In the migration routes to found the city, there is a gap - coming out of the dark North, a transverse plain (307)

So (all but) concludes The Easter Dream (304-7), arrival to in every way a clearing (305), pivotal to The Intent On, to Ken, to continent, and all our reflections here. It is an Opening in certain rhyme with Duncan’s Meadow. It touches as well the Nation as gap, as yet to be, as winter distances, blowout, as what stands between, in negative being, the city(s). And it is the passage from found to find.

And here it is a demand is made upon me: find the Secret History of your Self, wherein you live, which is more vast and great than any Shell or Strife you know.

- an Instruction absolute as any in the work (304-5).
                 Operative in a later, dreamt (Olsonic) extension is the telling, and the town.

it was
a gleam deep in his eyes

telling me, tell
the Secret History of your town

get the Secret History
of yourself

Through all the work, Fort Scott - Ken Irby’s town - is key, in the cartographic sense (see, for example, A Set Series for Roy Gridley (61-68)). His Easter Dream is

of very deep connection with the old Home Town, a cathexis of awareness of mystery upon the first place.

It is part of the alley behind our house and down the block, South, almost to Sixth St, of the hedges and fences at night, playing in the summer, late […]

It was Fort Scott, and San Francisco, and Berkeley, and the whole of Northern California, wedded together. (304-5)

The recurrent fact of landscapes simultaneous or interior to each other - (cf. Kansas and New Mexico, all at once, as Freud saw / all the ages of Rome superimposed in one vision (201) (or think of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS)) - is a main measure of our use of that term. To work here, landscape must accommodate the oneiric and the compound, all in keeping with the spirit of Sauer, for whom landscape was “an organic unit” and “not simply an actual scene” (Sauer 26). Common to Irby and Sauer is a phenomenology purged as far as possible of positivism(s), open as a (backalley) boy to all kinds of knowing. Basic to Ken’s epistemology are dreams; they are a part of the land he faces, and the writing is part of their action.

5. Not perhaps the formal value as such, but an inflection of it. How Ken’s poetics extend Pound’s (the ideogrammic concision of frog Ben Webster (429) comes now to mind): a large subject, and not mine here; but that Ken knew about Pound was, for me, I remember, primary. Ultimately it would only be for or by the lure of his teaching that I weathered college at all; Ken was to be my line to Cane, Ulysses, The Cantos, Spring and All, The Sound and the Fury, The Maximus Poems, Hart Crane, Ed Dorn, Mary Butts, H.D., Robert Duncan, Walt Whitman (& all they open to: Louis Zukofsky, Gerrit Lansing, Carl Sauer, Cabeza de Vaca, Irby himself…) - and that these works or bodies of work are as distinct in my mind as any other dozen is telling. Ken’s care, Ken’s nose, for process - for the individual energies of text, and student, and their arrival/mesh to each other - is unerring. More should be said of his teaching: that he is as unimpeachably good and conscientious a teacher as he is an anything else - poet, or dude, or home cook. If you were in his Am Lit class: remember his lesson on “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”? With field recordings of the mockingbird’s song (technical name: aria), and where I first heard “Casta Diva”, opera such as informed the work? But if you were, we might likely know each other: for so many, how he has made friends of us…

6. Again from The Easter Dream: …the intelligent others who return to disturb, dwellers of the dream or those who alter everyone’s dreams a continent away by simply stepping onto the shore. (306)

7. With this last phrase, I am thinking in particular of the closing sections of To Max Douglas (211-219), & of John Brown (329).

8. A switching at its limit instantaneous, all edge, as in the majestically weird

Who gazes at the bottled horsehair in the sun
to be eel

9. Holes:

1. the determining lacunae or incapacities of any system, be it arithmetic, space-time, period style, or a state.

2. the scene or sign of orders unrealized, undivulged.

3. the limits of composition.

4. we may picture as a twinkling - a thin rain or guesswork or fugue - or as some laminar extra, lining all.

5. are the beginning of distance, the end (apotheosis, last gasp/vowel) of rhyme.

6. The rapport of Being with itself is by way of holes.
7. It would all be hole were not that all holed, itself, to pieces, places…

 as the way NE opens and the flame orange ball

 rolls beyond the river, makes its hole

 and stops, before the clearing (358)



10. A sociability driving and pervading his poems: for some one, some couple, or some birthday - how much are people their occasion. A care and intelligence about how people treat each other, in particular, is basic to both Ken and his work.

11. Exemplary of such development is the equation “To depict place in the American arts is to ask questions about allegiance, at times of danger as well as desire” (Ward, 213).* “Politics” is not the apparent point of these poems. Its ground, though, in the precise terms Ward names - i.e., the sustained and sustaining questions place frames of to what, and how, to be true; the very plains, and migrant’s, questions of what to hold to - is their most insistent dimension.

* (that proviso—“at times of danger as well as desire”—would be superlative for much of Irby’s lifetime, so institutional in/of the so-called “American century” have danger and desire been. So Sequence (107-111) incorporates first

American history is the only history

Local history is the only history

                it is the

then Rimbaud’s

Let it come, let it come
the age of our desire

I have endured so long
I have forgotten everything (111)

Permit, then, a Rimbaldian emphasis: “To ask questions about allegiance” is not merely to deterritorialize; it is no less radically to reconceive and openly seek the ends, the stakes - the good - of living.)

12. e.g., with terrain ever the dimension of mirage, mimic air, the margin of the sky (240), the at-history haze of winter light along the horizon (631) …

13. i.e., meaning, in the work, if spelled out (at all), is consistently given as available, not single; and the is-ness of a thing tends strongly to outpace all it might stand for.

14. Examples:

this is the room the eyes start out from

 birds fly through the look on out

as gnats and flies fly through the room here (140)


- or in the words past the breeze through from the bedroom window up the short hall to the feet, and through again (523), quoted below.

15. - or “take a class.” Both in “take the cure” - and certainly there’s a leading sense of landscape as inoculant. Or take “take a picture”: registration idealized as so technically im-mediate (passive) it’s appropriation (active) (- or so I take it.) Take landscape sounds most of all, though, finally, like “take place” - i.e., simply, to happen.

16. The translation to composition by field is proverbial (and, broadly, literal) -

As in your grasslands you are searching rightly for what a poem is to be in another “poem” - the winds, the grass, the plains will tell you (makers of a horizon you’ve known, I’ve only seen idly in passing) what I can’t about beginning and end of “form” - (Duncan, letter to Ken, p. 3)

- so may “poem” be read for “landscape” anywhere hereabouts.

17.          For the true ones are known by their mark, and that I am not ever certain I can tell
                  O divine luminosities, o fiery tricksters, o other humans alive or gone on, when you come,
                  the taste that is real

This paper had begun

Again and again we come into the world (and how much is Ken’s work the script of those returns); it is ever anew a problem of order: that it should, or should not, be so. Is it always - either way - virtual?

: that’s what I’d routinely felt, arriving to a world, breaking, in “the flux, between bells, of a campus hilltop: a commotion of bodies, and stone, and sky: a flourishing of prospective orders : it’s this matrix of virtuality I have firstly in mind.” That a productive dynamic of virtual and actual underwrites poems as well, Kyle would point out, with especial eye to Allen Grossman’s “Hart Crane and Poetry: A Consideration of Crane's Intense Poetics with Reference to ‘The Return’”. For our […] way is polysemous (261), and the issue of virtuality is in good part that of a vantage or language adequate to the sensible and conflicted plurality, the sheer number, we engage. My point, my experience, is simply that Ken, in his living, in the practice and feeling of his writing, continually heralds just such improbable adequation.

18. Place portends some other order […] of closeness, el(e)usive - and, as such, is meta-place, allusive:

all references to this place
are to all places

19. —i.e., there is no attempt to short-circuit that suspense; this is probably what I meant by an early notation “I think Ken’s was the first intelligence in which I detected no note of self-defeat.” Keats, and Olson after him, termed that same essential discretion “negative capability”.

20. What I mean by “inner traffic” (the volume lirate, awash, with these echoing channels, alternate tracks, rills, secret gardens, gro(o)ves of affinity or association):

Bound upon the wheel

 as we are, the lama

said to Kim, be not

angry with the man, for he

has already repented, and you

have only a Red Mist

before your eyes. Let it

wash away in the River

that we all seek (148)

Kim’s Red Bull on a Green Field

but it does not remain to the eyes (422)

                                                          sweat rises […],

mist now at dark, drifts through the eucalyptus on the hills

east through Orinda, west along the bay,

what we have given back into nature

as taken - it is the anger yesterday (114)

anger is focus, regret such mist, each drop (537)


 fog dreams, drop dreams, the fear of falling (482)


But the egg puts on the abyss, and the fear of falling is the fear of talking (548)

Talking with an old friend who does not talk much I talk too much. […]

I have no memory of anyone before I learned to talk. (279)

to talk to those now gone

 is natural, to you especially


 who hardly spoke at all while you were here

 a golden silence toward the ocean


 toward the coming sunset

 to answer the heart? (196)

 the red life out of the green life and back again (551)


21. Maybe an odd reference, if Olson - in “Equal, That Is, To the Real Itself” – hadn’t made it first. Note moreover the basic device of differential geometry: an atlas, a set of local charts or maps smooth in their overlap (or dovetailing (13)); this the better to propose the intrinsic - as opposed to the derived, or induced. Further: in that math, a motivating question: how the light passes / from ridge to ridge (521; the line is H.D.’s, from “Evening”).

In “Equal, That Is, To the Real Itself,” Olson argues a progress of poetics parallelling that of modern geometries. It doesn’t hurt to see poetry and math (“some art and science”) sometimes as co-operative: both bear out a power of writing (“Only formalization touches the real” (Lacan)); both net or divine truth(s) by a subjection of intuitive content to the hazards, to the trial, of form; in both an interaction - (immanent, e.g., in measure) - of local and global energies is structuring; Homer sang formulae; etc. (I am becoming a mathematician, but am no less Ken’s student, for that, and record the fact mainly to suggest what a diversity of promptings he is friend to.) Olson’s essay comes in here, though, for two core points: first, the movement therein proposed from (“quantity as”) “extensive” to “intensive” mirrors an essential impulse in Irby’s work. Second, Olson’s conclusion - particularly at “things, and present ones, are the absolute conditions” - is, for all of this, a grounding recognition. Note moreover the rhyme (“vibrations”) with Ken’s Plotinus wrote, quoted above; the figure, again, is of form.

I take care to be inclusive, to enforce the point made at the start, that matter offers perils wider than man if he doesn’t do what still today seems the hardest thing for him to do, outside of some art and science: to believe that things, and present ones, are the absolute conditions; but that they are so because the structures of the real are flexible, quanta do dissolve into vibrations, all does flow, and yet is there, to be made permanent, if the means are equal. (Olson 52)

22. Cf. again the intent on, tangent to an inward (in word) pause (the I grown dark (427)).

23. intent / upon a current in the world (238)

24. Here / is the world / of all things. (16)

25. So, naturally, it is in the later work I most approach Ken’s frame of mind:

Tondo stare straight down at the table where the company of a meal has been so shared the hospitality still hangs in the air its solid cube of warmth, exact as every detail on the tabletop


 dirty the brocade tablecloth of the inheritance and worn through where kept at the table

      edge too long, moved back only to fray another fissure

 geology of hair, dirt, dandruff, litter, family and love, lees (534)


Tondo (a circular picture; a bas-relief overlooks the table in his main room) might be a disc, or an lp:

and what the landscape is of each old 78 played until worn out, and past

 terrain made peneplain of ridge and groove ground down, too softly intricate beyond

       facsimile to ever map or duplicate

 but real imaginal as meetings with our certain dead or those unknown we scan for their

               true seal

 But this is land, and music’s land played out, and land intrinsicate, into what certain

               share (546)


Note the record groove, the line itself, as landscape (where hitherto “No line on a map can be drawn to represent …” (Malin, quoted at 13)); it is in fact an immanence of landscape these writings record. A vocabulary of expanse and aeon attaches to the fine, the accidental, the limit intensities of space; if landscape he had had to take / to ever come home, here that landscape is come home, is home, is the very grain of Being.